Socrates and the Win/Fail of Everyday Life

Death declines during depressions, reports Mother Jones' Blue Marble Blog. Blogger Julia Whitty traces the causality back to the stressful working habits, overindulgent fast-food eating practices, and increases in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths related to atmospheric pollution.

This all goes to show that living a little simpler, a little slower, probably won't kill us. In fact, perhaps the opposite.

Although, there is an important distinction between the movers and the shakers that could afford to eat, work, and spend less, and those who, barely surviving before the recession hit, may have now slipped into poverty and homelessness. Still, the recession has been a boon in some ways: the European Union reported lower C02 emissions last year due to the economic downturn, while some are already worrying that Americans' new-found sense of thrift and community may slip away as the market improves.

Besides its greater or lesser impact upon our personal finances, the economic downturn has had an emotional impact: the idea that business-as-usual could, and should, continue in the same vein indefinitely has been challenged. Our sense of security--on a personal or national level--has been revealed as just that: a sense, a perception or way of relating to the world that may not have much to do with reality.

Even so, many of us who are still employed and have retained some financial security are still caught up in the same old life-arithmetic:

Wolfing down an instant dinner over work brought home from the office = win. Avoiding getting to know people because turning acquaintances into friends is too time-consuming = win. Purchasing short-lived items that aren't bargains for the planet = win.

Intellectually, we may realize that our lifestyles are not healthy and perhaps not getting us anywhere in the long term, but it's a kind of addiction, this compulsion to stay driven. One of the most difficult barriers to lifestyle change is not so much the "how": advice abounds for those who want to cut their carbon emissions or eat a healthier diet. The problem is the "why." The "what does it all mean" which is only answered each day, and always imperfectly, but still must be faced. On our increasingly-cramped planet the only way that we can really make a dent in our planetary impact is to need less. Facing all of our fundamental needs, the ways in which we are incomplete, should drive us to each other, to nature, to ideas and laughter, rather than to the shopping mall or the television set. Yet it is so easy to get caught up in all the other activities which are not really answers but rather postponements of the questions "who am I and why am I here?"

There are many traditions that preach giving up attachments to material things. The point is not to advocate for one specific school of thought but for cultivating our own conscious stance, whatever that may be. We are all living a philosophy whether we realize the importance of philosophy or not. Seeing that our "wins" so often are actually "fails" wouldn't necessarily occur to someone who doesn't give him- or herself the right to a life-stance. "The unexamined life is not worth living," said Socrates. What he left out is that the unexamined life may also be shortened by its boon-time, unsustainable habits. Thank goodness the market seems to be improving a little; thank the hard times for teaching us lessons we might not otherwise be open to learning.

Tags: Health, Material, Mortality, Philosophy, Recession

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